Exercise training and nutritional supplementation for physical frailty in very elderly people

N Engl J Med. 1994 Jun 23;330(25):1769-75. doi: 10.1056/NEJM199406233302501.


Background: Although disuse of skeletal muscle and undernutrition are often cited as potentially reversible causes of frailty in elderly people, the efficacy of interventions targeted specifically at these deficits has not been carefully studied.

Methods: We conducted a randomized, placebo-controlled trial comparing progressive resistance exercise training, multinutrient supplementation, both interventions, and neither in 100 frail nursing home residents over a 10-week period.

Results: The mean (+/- SE) age of the 63 women and 37 men enrolled in the study was 87.1 +/- 0.6 years (range, 72 to 98); 94 percent of the subjects completed the study. Muscle strength increased by 113 +/- 8 percent in the subjects who underwent exercise training, as compared with 3 +/- 9 percent in the nonexercising subjects (P < 0.001). Gait velocity increased by 11.8 +/- 3.8 percent in the exercisers but declined by 1.0 +/- 3.8 percent in the nonexercisers (P = 0.02). Stair-climbing power also improved in the exercisers as compared with the nonexercisers (by 28.4 +/- 6.6 percent vs. 3.6 +/- 6.7 percent, P = 0.01), as did the level of spontaneous physical activity. Cross-sectional thigh-muscle area increased by 2.7 +/- 1.8 percent in the exercisers but declined by 1.8 +/- 2.0 percent in the nonexercisers (P = 0.11). The nutritional supplement had no effect on any primary outcome measure. Total energy intake was significantly increased only in the exercising subjects who also received nutritional supplementation.

Conclusions: High-intensity resistance exercise training is a feasible and effective means of counteracting muscle weakness and physical frailty in very elderly people. In contrast, multi-nutrient supplementation without concomitant exercise does not reduce muscle weakness or physical frailty.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Body Composition
  • Energy Intake*
  • Exercise Therapy*
  • Female
  • Food, Fortified*
  • Frail Elderly*
  • Gait
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Muscles / physiology
  • Nutritional Status
  • Physical Endurance